Developer Studies Muskegon Mall

January 3, 2003
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MUSKEGON — The coming months should bring definitive answers on what will ultimately occur at the site of the defunct Muskegon Mall, as a developer chosen by the property's owner formulates options and determines which is the most viable.

A downtown development group that acquired the mall last fall has chosen Southfield-based Charter Development to develop plans for the 26-acre site in the heart of downtown Muskegon, a project that will create a new character for the central business district that in recent years has begun to experience a rebirth.

"There is much growth and excitement in Muskegon now and this property is in the center of it," Charter Development Vice President Doug Bock said. "This project is an anchor for the future expansion of the core of Muskegon, and we want it to reach out to surrounding communities and residents and to encourage people to come live and work at the water's edge."

While partners in the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. envision an "urban village" consisting of residential, retail and professional office uses, much of the final plan will hinge on what Charter Development concludes in upcoming market research and due diligence, said Charles Johnson, a board member for the local development group and president of the Paul C. Johnson Foundation.

"We're not holding anybody's feet to the fire here," Johnson said. "We're going to listen to everybody and there's going to be a lot of give and take, and hopefully we can come to a consensus."

Comprising the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. are the Paul C. Johnson Foundation, the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. The City of Muskegon has representation on the corporation's board, although it is not an equity partner.

The organization selected the 50-year-old Charter Development after reviewing the qualifications of five developers who were selected as finalists to undertake redevelopment of the mall site.

Downtown Muskegon Development directors made their selection based on Charter Development's "outstanding" qualifications, as well as its expertise and success with large, mixed-use developments in urban areas and working in public-private partnerships, Johnson said.

"Basically we felt they had the experience, the expertise and the financial resources to complete the project," he said. "We have great confidence in them. They've done work like this before."

Among the projects in which the principals of Charter Development are involved is a massive $375 million development to turn a 216-acre former medical campus in Pontiac into a 670-home residential neighborhood and technology park.

Charter Development and the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. will spend the next six to eight months analyzing ideas on what can work at the Muskegon Mall site, Johnson said. He stresses that retaining Charter Development at this point merely gives the company the opportunity to formulate a development plan for the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp.

"If they do come up with a workable plan and Downtown Muskegon Development buys off on it, they get the job," Johnson said.

Johnson expects that any plan will have to take into account how other projects planned in and around downtown — most notably Edison Landing, a nearby high-tech residential and business park along Muskegon Lake that should begin taking shape this summer — will affect the economic viability of the mall site's redevelopment.

"That's what the developers are going to have to wrestle with," he said.

As far as some suggestions that plans for the mall should include a gaming casino, Johnson said Downtown Muskegon Development doesn't envision that kind of use, although "we would not stand in the way of the will of the community" if significant support for a casino surfaces.           

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